(Adds CEO’s comments, background and stock price performance)
By Souhail Karam
RABAT, March 26 (Reuters) - Maroc Telecom said on Monday it plans to raise its capital by as much as 22.7 percent, prompting traders on the Casablanca bourse to speculate that Morocco’s main telecom player may make a fresh acquisition in Africa.
The affiliate of French operator Vivendi will ask a shareholders’ assembly to vote on April 24 for the management’s proposal to raise its capital by up to 200 million shares, the company said in a statement to the Casablanca bourse.
It did not say what it needed the capital increase for. Traders in Casablanca said that, if approved, Maroc Telecom’s capital hike would be the Casablanca bourse’s biggest ever.
“We are talking about 27 billion dirhams ($3.2 billion) as market value for the maximum number of shares the company plans to issue ... It seems they plan to make a new acquisition,” a senior trader said.
Chief Executive Officer Abdeslam Ahizoune told Reuters the capital hike should give the firm “flexibility should an eventual need arise.” He declined to elaborate.
The firm is Vivendi’s second-most lucrative subsidiary after its French arm SFR, although its revenue growth has recently been declining due mostly to growing competitiveness in the Moroccan market, its main source of income. Maroc Telecom also has subsidiaries in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Mali.
Its net profit fell 14.8 percent to 8.1 billion dirhams ($968.4 million) in 2011 after its turnover shrank by 2.5 percent to 30.8 billion dirhams.
Its stock has inched down 0.4 percent since the start of this year, slightly underperforming the main all-share index. In 2011, Maroc Telecom shares fell 9.6 percent while the index fell by almost 13 percent.
Vivendi holds a 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom and the Moroccan government has 30 percent.
$1 = 8.3879 Moroccan dirhams Reporting By Souhail Karam; Editing by Dan Lalor, Gary Hill